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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The real Law Expert
Text:Mark 6:53-7:23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 100
Hymn 2:5 (after the law)
Psalm 1
Hymn 24:1,4,5
Hymn 48 (after offertory)
Psalm 147:1,2

Reading: Mark 6:53-7:23
Text:  Mark 6:53-7:23
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,


When we come to church on Sundays, many of us are looking forward to hearing good news. This is good.  We want to hear the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.  So, it’s good that our attention is again directed to Mark’s gospel.  If you study or read through Mark, you can’t help but frequently encounter the gospel. 


Today we come to a passage that is not so obviously good news or encouraging.  The temptation is for us to say, “Well, let’s just skip over this section.  It’s very negative, very down.  And even if somehow there is good news at the end, it’s still going to be a hard passage for some people.”  However, the Word of God challenges us here this morning and we should think of that as a good and helpful thing.  It might make us uncomfortable, it might even be painful, but think of it like going to the doctor.  Going to the doctor is sometimes painful, many times it’s uncomfortable – but ultimately it’s for our good health.  And remember Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

And it’s not just about us either, not just about our good spiritual health.  Dealing with the difficult and challenging passages in Scripture also helps us in getting the full picture of who our God is and who our Saviour is.  That helps us in knowing him better, so that we can better exalt him, so that we can be more impressed with him, so that we can magnify his worth.  Ultimately, this morning we want to come away from this passage in Mark with hearts that have again taken hold of Christ in awe and love.


As we turn then to our passage from Mark, there is a thread running through most of these verses.  That thread has to do with the law of God and the relationship of Jesus to that law.  There were men in Jesus’ day who considered themselves to be experts on the law of God.  In these verses, we come to see who really is the expert.  We’ll see Jesus Christ revealed as the law-keeper, the law-interpreter, and the law-maker. 


I mentioned that a lot of this passage is in a minor key, that it has a negative, down tone to it.  However, that’s not really the case with verses 53 to 56 of chapter 6.  Let’s briefly look at those verses.


Jesus and his disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.  The boat’s destination had been Bethsaida on the northeastern shore.  However, because of the wind, they ended up at Gennesaret on the western shore.  When they landed, right away the crowds were there once again, thronging the Lord Jesus.  Wherever he went after this point, people were bringing the sick to him for healing.  It didn’t matter where he was, the people of the region found him and begged him to heal.  And it’s readily apparent that he didn’t disappoint.


From this notice again his compassion for those who have been broken by the effects of sin.  Disease and sickness are in this world because of the fall into sin.  The Lord Jesus is beginning to reverse the effects of sin through his healing ministry.  This points to his compassion, his love, and his mercy for the broken, but it also points beyond to something more significant.  It points to the fact that he is the one who will bear the curse of sin for all who believe in him.  Isaiah 53:5 declares that it is by his wounds that we are healed.  Whenever he heals the sick, we’re reminded and assured of that great and encouraging truth – we have redemption through the cross.  Don’t let that escape you here, don’t take it for granted.  Rather, see your Saviour and embrace him again with faith, resting in him, trusting in him, believing that by his wounds you are healed. 


But there’s more here in these verses.  Take a look again at the end of verse 56, “They begged him to let them touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.”  Now the question we need to ask when we read this is:  what’s so special about the edge of his cloak that people would want to touch it?  Why wouldn’t they touch the middle of his cloak?  Or maybe the top?  Why the edge?  To answer that, we have to go back to the law of God. 


Please turn with me in your Bibles to Numbers 15:37 [read verses 37 to 41].  Now as we go back to Mark, we know that these tassels were on the edge of Jesus’ cloak.  People touched them because they were easy to touch.  But more importantly for us, they tell us something about Jesus Christ.  They tell us that he was obedient to all of God’s law, including the ceremonial requirements that only applied to the Jews.  Jews were to wear these tassels so that they would remember the law of God and be obedient to it, that they would be consecrated to the LORD their God.  In other words, that they would be holy and set apart for him.  Every Jew before Jesus had failed and that’s why God provided the system of sacrifices to atone for sin.  But now Jesus the Messiah has come and he perfectly learns, remembers and obeys the law of God.  He is a perfect law-lover and law-keeper – he is really the blessed man of Psalm 1.  He is consistently and completely consecrated to God, holy, holy, holy. 


Now it’s these tassels through which sick people were being healed.  Again, this is a picture of another aspect of our redemption.  Isaiah 53:5 says that it is through his wounds that we are healed.  That means that the curse of sin is taken away through his suffering and death.  Romans 5:19 says that by one man’s obedience, many will be made righteous.  By Christ’s obedience to the law of God, we are made righteous, we are healed.  So, as you see your Saviour here, see one who was perfectly obedient to the law of God.  Please listen loved ones:  you need to do that, because as we’re going to see in chapter 7, without him and his perfect obedience, we would all be in a world of trouble.  We need a gospel that includes his perfect law-keeping and his perfect sacrifice for us.


Let me illustrate.  Let’s say you tell one of your kids, “I want your room cleaned up by 4:00 and if it’s not, there will be punishment.”  Four o’clock rolls around and you go to check the room and it’s not clean.  So, being a man or woman of your word, your child receives a punishment.  But the room is still dirty, the room still needs to be cleaned.  There not only has to be punishment, something still has to be positively done to get the room cleaned up.  There are different ways that you could do that, you could have the child do it himself, or you could do it for him.  Now you see, Jesus Christ bears the curse or punishment on sin for us and he also cleans up the room for us with his perfect obedience.  His suffering is given to us, but also his obedience to the law of God.  You see, we not only need the cross, we also need his perfect life.   


Now as we come to chapter 7, this gets driven home to us quite pointedly.  We’ve encountered the Pharisees and scribes before, these are the rabbinical paparazzi who follow Jesus around, waiting for him and his disciples to slip up.  They came from Jerusalem, a delegation to spy on Jesus and his followers.  As in previous encounters, it doesn’t take long for their diligence to be rewarded. 


The Pharisees held to a tradition that had become entrenched – in fact, the tradition had functionally become the same as the law of God.  Oh, they said that there was a difference, but when the rubber hit the road, it was basically all the same thing.  If you didn’t keep the tradition, you were a law-breaker.  The tradition involved the washing of hands before eating.  Now this might be a sanitary thing to do at any rate, but the Jews had taken it further.  This was not about sanitation, but about religious fervour.  If you were truly serious about serving God, if you really wanted to measure up before God and men, this is what you needed to do.  You needed to ceremonially wash your hands before you eat, and not only your hands, but also your cups, pitchers, kettles and more.  If you didn’t you were unclean, which means that they believed that you were unable to have fellowship and communion with God. 


It was this tradition of washing that the disciples were ignoring.  That provoked the Jewish leaders from Jerusalem to ask Jesus why they didn’t follow the tradition.  Shouldn’t Jesus be concerned that his disciples are distancing themselves from God?  When they do this, they’re making themselves unclean, unfit for life with God.


See how Jesus responds to them.  He takes up the Word of God and uses it to convict them of their sin.  He pointed first of all to Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 29.  He calls them a bunch of hypocrites – hypocrites are literally those who wear a mask.  The Jewish leaders wear a mask of religious respectability, but when it comes down to it, it’s all a game, all a show.  It’s all about appearances and making yourself look good in front of others.  Isaiah had encountered the same sorts of people in his day.  They could talk well and good about honouring God – they had all the right words, they knew the religious jargon, the code.  But in their hearts, they couldn’t give a rip about serving God.  Their worship was empty and meaningless and when it came to living the life, they turned to the rules of men rather than the laws of God.  Then Jesus puts it bluntly to them, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding to the traditions of men.”  The Jewish leaders put their own traditions above the commands of God and they led others to do likewise.


At this point, he anticipates what they’re thinking – “Come on, we don’t do that.”  “Oh yes, you do,” says Jesus, “and now I’ll give you an example.”  The example is related to the fifth commandment, “Honour your father and your mother.”  In the Mosaic laws, not honouring your father and mother would result in death – that’s how serious God regarded disobedience to the fifth commandment.  Honouring your parents is a big deal.  But the Jewish rabbis weakened the fifth commandment and perverted it. 


The Lord Jesus gives the case of a man who has parents in need.  These parents are poor and they require support from their son.  Providing that support and help is part of the fifth commandment – you honour your parents by helping them out wherever you can.  But the Jewish rabbis said that if a man came into some money or property or whatever, he could keep his parents from getting it by simply saying the Hebrew word “Corban” – which means, that it’s a gift devoted to God.  And if he later changed his mind and wanted to help out his parents, the Jewish rabbis would not allow it.  Their reasoning was that whatever is devoted to God takes precedence over obligations to parents. 


But the fact that they even allowed this despicable practice shows that they missed the point of the law of God.  They did not intepret it properly.  With their reasoning, they were actually declaring the Word of God to be unlawful!  They nullified it, cancelled it out.  These law-specialists, law-experts, showed themselves to be ignorant of the law.  The law said “Honour your father and mother” and take that seriously, it didn’t say anything about “Corban” and using that to evade your responsibilities towards your parents.  This reminds us that binding beyond the Word of God is a very dangerous business – and not approved by our Lord Jesus.


Jesus then calls the crowd to himself and instructs them further.  The Jewish leaders had taught them that it’s primarily external things that make a person unclean.  When you eat a certain food, you become unclean, unfit for communion with God.  Jesus says, “No, it’s what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.”  And then he just leaves it at that.  Some in the crowd might understand, many will not.


Among those who did not understand were his own disciples.  So, they asked him about this parable about the things going in and things going out.  The Lord Jesus is at first incredulous that they wouldn’t get it.  He says, “Can’t you see that what comes from outside doesn’t really do anything to a man’s heart?  It comes into his stomach and then it just goes out on the toilet.”  It’s just food – it doesn’t really have anything to do with one’s status before God. 


Then we read in brackets at the end of verse 19, “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean.’”  Here we see him as the law-maker.  Who is he that he has the authority to turn over the dietary laws of the Old Testament?  Who can do this but God alone?  That’s what we see about Jesus here.  He is God and he has the right and the authority to say that those Old Testament dietary laws have outlived their usefulness, they’re no longer applicable.  Under the Old Testament dietary laws, pork was unclean – Jesus says you can now enjoy bacon with your eggs, and pork with your beans.  Under the dietary laws of Leviticus, anything that swam in the water that didn’t have fins and scales was unclean – Jesus says you can now enjoy lobster with your steak, you can now enjoy shrimp with your pasta.  All those laws have been lifted – they are no longer in force in the same way as they were before Jesus’ coming.


At first glance, it appears that Jesus is making things easier with regards to the law.  But then he goes on about what really makes a person unable to have communion and fellowship with God.  It’s not about the food that comes in your mouth, but the evil that comes from your heart.


Many times people regard Jesus as a therapist.  But here he comes as a surgeon with the scalpel of God’s law to expose what lives in the hearts of people, in our hearts.  We want Jesus to give us therapy, he says that we need surgery.  We want Jesus to give us a massage and make us feel better, but he says that we need a heart transplant.  It may hurt and it may be uncomfortable, but it’s what we really need.  That’s what these words at the end of our passage are all about. 


These words are here to prick us, to expose us, to make us uncomfortable.  This is not pleasant, I understand that.  But that’s the first use of the law.  We usually speak about three uses of the law of God.  The first is to convict us of sin and drive us to Christ.  The second is its civil or political use, ordering society and civil law and order.  The third is guiding and shaping our thankfulness for our salvation in Christ.  Here Christ is using the first use of the law:  it’s power to point the finger at sinners and convict them, making them despair of their own selves and their own righteousness.   


You see, the Jews had domesticated the law of God.  They had actually made it too easy by focussing on things that could easily be done, focussing on the externals.  The Lord Jesus comes and says, “You really don’t get how hard the law of God is.”  In Matthew 5:48 he summarized the demand of God’s law when he said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  But who can do that?  Exactly!  God’s law demands absolute, pristine perfection.  God does not grade on a curve; to be accepted and to have fellowship with him, he won’t accept anything less than 100% obedience.  That begins with what comes out of the heart.


When he was asked what happens to people who reject Christ, a popular TV preacher and author replied, “I just think that God will judge a person’s heart...God’s got to look at your heart.”  Yes, God will judge our hearts at the last day.  But this TV preacher thinks that this is the good news, that we can have hope and comfort because our hearts and the hearts of others are so pure and well-intentioned.  But Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?”  And then we also have Jesus’ words here in Mark 7.


Look at this list, it’s a catalogue of sins inward and outward.  There are evil thoughts – that’s the blanket term for every thought that breaks God’s law.  My heart has conceived and committed sins that my hands have never carried out.  If my sincerity counted for anything, I’d be in serious trouble with God.  Sexual immorality is also a blanket term for all kinds of sexual sins – the word in Greek is related to our English word “pornography.”  It covers pornography, but a lot more.  Theft – which includes greed and abuse and squandering of God’s gifts, failing to promote your neighbour’s good wherever you can.  Murder – which Jesus says includes hatred and bitterness towards others.  Adultery – again Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that even includes lustful glances at people you’re not married to.  Greed, malice (having evil intentions towads others), deceit, lewdness (being obscene), envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  The finger of God’s law is pointing right at me and you, convicting us.  And it’s not the fault of the law – the problem is in me, the problem is in you, in all of us.  The law is not evil, we are.  All of these things come from within our hearts and they make us unclean, unable to have fellowship with God, unable to be members of his family, unable to have him as our Father.


What’s happening here in Mark 7 is an illustration of what God says in Hebrews 4:12-13, “For the Word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  The Word of God is sharp like a sword, it’s like the scalpel that exposes the disease and gangrene within. 


But loved ones, it’s not meant to leave us there.  Our Lord Jesus didn’t speak these words to make us despair and to leave us down, in our desperation.  He’s the surgeon with the scalpel of the law and he wants to give us life-saving surgery.  It’s not about killing us, but about saving us.  He wants us to hear the law here and humbly and honestly say, “Yes, my conscience accuses me.  I’ve failed.  I’ve grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil.” 


But then he also wants us to right away hear the gospel.  The Lord Jesus wants us to hear his voice,  “Yes, you have failed.  By yourself you can’t be right with God, you can’t have him for your Father.  But here’s good news:  you have failed in everything, but I have succeeded in everything.  I kept the law perfectly for you.  Evil thoughts do not come out of my heart.  There is no sexual immorality flowing from my heart.  I have never robbed, murdered or committed adultery, not in my external actions nor in the intents of my heart.  I did this for you.  Greed, malice, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, foolishness – I made sure that they don’t have a place at all in my heart.  And I did all that for you and in your place.”  And Jesus says, “Not only that, but I went to the cross for you and bore the punishment for all the times that this has been your story.  By yourself you are unclean, but with me you are made clean.  You are not guilty, you are acquitted of all charges, declared righteous, welcome to the family of God.  And now I promise to continue working in you with my Spirit so that you begin to look more and more like me inside and out.” 


Beloved brothers and sisters, let the Word of God do its work in you today.  The Holy Spirit is using this passage to lead us again to Christ, the faithful one.  The Spirit is directing us again to look outside of ourselves and fix our eyes on him.  He is our great law-keeper, he is our great sin-bearer.  Rest in him, trust in him and you can be sure that you are clean in God’s eyes, that you are not only made suitable for his family, but that you are part of his family.  And from here on, he will help you and transform you so that your heart looks like his heart and your life looks like his life.  AMEN.


Let us pray:


Father in heaven,


We confess to you our weakness, sin, and inability.  Of ourselves, we are all unclean.  All our righteous deeds are like filthy rags in the light of your law.  Father, we are again grateful for the Lord Jesus, the great law-keeper and curse-bearer.  Thank you for sending him to live perfectly for us, thank you sending him to suffer and die for us.  Lord God, we pray that you would continue working in us with your Holy Spirit so that we would constantly embrace Christ and all his benefits.  Father, please work in us too so that we live out of our union with Christ, hate sin and fight against it in our hearts and lives.  Please hear us in the name of our Saviour, AMEN.    

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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